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Reward of Merit. 1809." Lord Houghton, who knew Charles Cowden Clarke, the son of the master of the school, says: “The school could have had no special pretensions to scholarship, for he was never taught Greek. He must have read Virgil diligently, if not familiarly, for before he left Enfield he had translated on paper the whole of the Æneid; but it was ordinary school manuals, such as “Tooke's Pantheon,” “Spence's Polymetis,” and “Lemprière's Dictionary," that introduced his fancy to the enchanted world of old mythology. It is an interesting speculation whether deeper and more regular studies would have checked or encouraged the natural consanguinity, so to say, of his fancy with the ideal life of the ancient world, and whether a more distinct knowledge of what the old mythology really meant would or would not have hindered that reconstruction of forms
which is now not the less agreeable from being the evolution of his unlearned and unaided imagination. He may, indeed, have afterward extended his knowledge beyond these scanty limits, for among his books was left a fine copy of the “Auctores Mythographici Latini,” Lugd. Bat. 1742, 4to, with his name on the title-page, and apparently read or consulted; and Sir Charles Dilke possesses a Delphian folio of “Ovid's Metamorphoses," with the autograph of John Keats, 1812. Nor did his inclination seem any way peculiar within the ordinary range of school
boy reading. The immortal “ Robinson Crusoe” and Marmontel's “Incas of Peru ” were among his favorite books, and he must have known something of Shakespeare, for he told a school-fellow considerably younger than himself, he thought no one could dare read “ Macbeth " alone in the house at two o'clock in the morning.
The mother of Keats died in 1810, while he was at school, and it is related of him that he hid himself under the master's desk for several days and refused to be comforted. The children now came under the guardianship of a Mr. Abbey, a merchant. It appears from the letters between the brothers that Mr. Abbey was a most unsympathetic person, and when John began writing verses this guardian doubted whether his ward should not be restrained by some legal process. So long as the guardianship lasted there were unpleasant quarrels, Mr. Abbey accusing the Keatses of wastefulness, and they him of actions almost dishonest. When John was fifteen, without having been consulted in the matter, he was apprenticed to Mr. Hammond, a surgeon of note at Edmonton. It was fortunate for him, however, that he was not removed far from Enfield, for while at Edmonton he was able to keep up his connection with the Clarkes, from whom he continually borrowed books. Charles Cowden Clarke was a most sympathetic companion and friend. With him Keats discussed the books he read, and it was to him, later, that he was indebted for an introduction to that literary circle of which Leigh Hunt was the central figure. Among the books he borrowed was Spenser's “Faerie Queene," and the Clarkes were amused
at what they thought only a boyish ambition to study “so illustrious a monument of literature.” But Mr. Clarke says the effect of the poem on him was electrical. He walked over to Enfield at least once every week to discuss Spenser with his friend. In a letter to Lord Houghton, Mr. Clarke, writing of this time, says: “He ramped through the scenes of the romance like a young horse turned into a spring meadow; he revelled in the gorgeousness of the imagery as in the pleasures of a sense fresh found; the force and felicity of an epithet (such, for example, as the sea-shouldering whale') would light up his countenance with ecstasy, and some fine touch of description would seem to strike on the secret chords of his soul and generate countless harmonies."
Keats did not complete his apprenticeship to Mr. Hammond, and though the reason for breaking the indenture is nowhere recorded, it may fairly be inferred, I think, from a remark in one of his letters to his brother George, where he speaks of the “same hand I clenched at Hammond,” that there was not much love between the surgeon of Edmonton and his apprentice. When he gave up this apprenticeship, he went to live in the Poultry, over the passage that led to the · Queen's Arms Tavern,” with his two brothers, who were clerks in the counting-room of Mr. Abbey. In the pursuit of his profession, he attended the usual lectures and walked the hospitals. He was not regarded as a very promising or diligent student by his companions, for he was thought to be too fond of scribbling doggerel rhymes among his notes. Indeed, his fellow-students were much
surprised when he passed a very creditable examination at Apothecary's Hall. During this time he spent many evenings in the company of the Hunt coterie. Lord Houghton, in speaking of these friends of the young poet, and their companionship, says: “It must be regarded as a singular good fortune -- this intercourse of the most familiar and friendly nature with a body of remarkable men of a special literary culture, sympathetic notions, and an order of thought congenial to his own intellectual disposition. Had the early youth of Keats fallen, as well it might have done, among mere commonplace associates, it is probable that the rare development which gave to the four years of his literary life the consistence of a poetical existence, would have been spent in unavailing struggles, and might have ended as did that of Chatterton, in profitless despair. The brothers Hunt were the centre of the social circle: they were the editors of the “Examiner' newspaper, and had lately attracted notoriety and sympathy by their imprisonment for a libel on the Regent, in which some sharp personal satire was interpreted into dangerous political significance. It was thus an unfortunate concurrence that Keats became unwittingly identified, not only with a literary coterie, with whose specialties he had little in common, but with a supposed political association for revolutionary objects, with which he entertained nothing beyond the vaguest sympathy. There is nothing in his letters or in his recorded conversation to show that he took even an ordinary interest in the public discussions of his time; and the political
savagery with which his writings were treated was not only a reproach to the æsthetic sagacity of some distinguished men of letters, but a most unjust assumption of facts.”
It was among this company that Keats met his first publisher, Mr. Ollier, a young man of great good nature, and a writer himself of verses. The admirers of the young poet encouraged both poet and publisher to make the venture, and accordingly in the spring of 1817 there appeared a little volume of juvenile poems, several very gay and spirited epistles, and a few sonnets. The book made no impression whatever, and would have died as utterly as that marvelous dramatic poem, “ Joseph and his Brethren,” published a few years later by Charles Jeremiah Wells, one of Keats's companions at Mr. Clarke's school and a member of the Hunt coterie, had it not been for the persistent belief of Keats himself in his own poetic power. At the darkest part of his literary life he wrote to his brother: “I believe I shall be among the English poets after my death.” His friend Wells, however, gave up entirely, and for sixty years his drama slept in obscurity, and even when, a few years ago, Rossetti and Swinburne succeeded in getting the work republished and praised it lavishly in the reviews, it excited only a curious and temporary interest, and is now almost as little known as it was before these zealous friends of good poetry came to its rescue. Though Wells lived more than half a century after his drama fell still-born from the press, he never attempted anything more. Neglect spoiled him for further effort. Keats, however, gave up not